Fife Flyers - crawling to play-offs in hope rather than expectation

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The route Fife Flyers are plotting to the play-offs is arguably the most haphazard and slipshod imaginable - one that offers little confidence of a return to the finals weekend.

After last weekend’s wretched capitulation to a short-benched Hull Stingrays, Flyers had to deliver against Dundee Stars; a side playing for nothing more than pride.

The wall of noise which welcomed them on to the ice was a clear message from the stands. The fans came to support, and came in expectation. Once again the club simply didn’t deliver.

Well, they did - for all of five minutes.

From the moment referee Neil Wilson dropped the puck Fife were off and running. Matt Reber’s surges down the ice had Stars on the backfoot, the lines skated with urgency, and the game flowed in one direction towards Marc Cheverie in Stars’ net.

It took just 1:26 to get the go-ahead goal as Reber’s superb steal in mid-ice saw him hit the burners and throw the puck across the ice for Jordan Fulton to drill home. Pace, precision, and intent in one flowing clinical move.

But, once again, they didn’t get that crucial second goal which would have, in all honesty, sucked the life out of Stars and laid the foundations for a solid win. Instead, they allowed the momentum of the opening period to drift and then flatten out. Stars started to become an offensive threat, and an equalising goal at 6:04 was no more than they deserved. Yet again Fife were caught out by an odd man rush - how many is that for the season? - giving Sean Ringrose the easiest of chances to beat the exposed Kevin Regan.

The fans who expected a reaction were sorely tested as Fife came up short on ice again.

The same players grafted. The same line mates were as off the pace and resolutely stuck to the fringes of this game as ever. Slowly, inexorably the entire game plan slid to the lower level.

Sure they created some chances, and Cheverie certainly made the big saves, but this was a must win game on the penultimate weekend of the regular season against a side already eliminated - grief, what more does this team want? - so it was an entirely reasonable expectation that Flyers would deliver their ‘A’ game.

They didn’t. At times you struggled to detect their ‘B’ game if it even exists.

So, it was absolutely no surprise to see Stars take the lead early in the second period. Handed a five on three powerplay for 1:40 minutes, Ringrose made it count with a superb slapshot straight into the net.

It took Flyers until the half hour to draw level with Chris Auger getting a sharp, instinctive tip on Scott Fleming’s pass to roll the puck under Cheverie, and when Steven Gunn simply blasted past the goalie at the near post for 3-2 they should have kicked-on and finally killed this game after the second break.

The third, however, turned out to a dismal, scrappy affair. The life drained out of the game with every passing shift, and as Fife faltered so Stars geared up for an equaliser. You could sensed it coming - Ringrose missed a huge chance, and John Dolan showed some nifty footwork to back heel one puck past Regan before it came at 56:44.

A shot was blocked, Stars swooped in numbers and Shane Lust forced the puck home as Fife’s defence reacted too late.

With utter grim inevitability it went to overtime, and again Fife had chances - Auger’s steal from Ringrose was predatory but credit to the Stars player for a marvellous recovery, while Reber threw a glorious pass to the back post only to find no takers.

Into penalties and the keepers stood tall.

Kyle Gibbons saw his effort strike metalwork, while Regan knocked John Dolan’s effort over the bar. At the other end, Bobby Chaumont’s shot was straight at Cheverie which rather summed up his contribution for the night, while Ned Lukacevic’s favoured backhand was foiled by the goalie.

The Fife winger went for a big finish at the start of round two but was thwarted once more, and then up stepped Grimshaw who picked his spot and found the net to secure a thoroughly deserved victory for Stars.

Flyers got one point for the regulation time draw - that was one more than rivals Hull, Coventry and Edinburgh got as they all went down to defeat.

They may well have emerged undamaged in terms of the standings, but that cannot be allowed to mask a poor performance at a critical point of the season.

Their form guide now reads ‘three losses’ - only Caps are worse on five - and momentum is missing from their game.

Flyers are a team crawling to the play-ofs more in hope than expectation.